Diary Of An Adventure
Trip to Africa – January of 2012.
January 22, Sunday
Flight to Kilimanjaro was smooth except for first 10 seconds after liftoff. Quick dip of right wing was explained by pilot later as caused by strong cross wind. Rest of flight was uneventful except could not get TVs in our row to operate. After several visits by the Purser, he apologized and said he had never seen that happen before.
Shortly before landing, a flight attendant delivered to each of us in our row of seats a KLM gift certificate for merchandise worth fifty Euros. Pretty neat. Third person in row sitting next to Lori was part of a group climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Gave him an article form the Sentinel describing person born without hands or feet and climbed the mountain.
After landing, met two reps from Africa Dream Safaris, who took our passports, whisked us through Customs and drove us to Arusha and a beautiful mid-rise hotel. Assigned a suite and taken to room. Beautiful suite with 3 air conditioners.
January 23, Monday
Awoke at 7:20 am. Left for airport at 8:15. Took back road shortcut, so made it in plenty of time. If fact, had to wait for airplane and other passengers. Boarded it and away we went bound for Seronera in the Serengeti National Park. One hour flight on 12 passenger plane. Window seats, so good chance to see terrain.
Met our guide for the week, Vincent Leichy. Very easy to talk to, big smile and anxious to please. He explained schedule for the day, confirmed we were agreeable and off we went at about 11:00 am. Saw many animals the first day including: giraffe, impala, Thomson gazelle, Grand gazelle, zebra, hippo, leopard, cape buffalo, black faced monkey, baboon, dik-dik and elephant.
As dusk approached, we arrived at Bilila Lodge. We were welcomed by management and served a glass of fresh juice. As we were taken to our room, we were amazed at how nice it was. Leaving the main lodge, we traversed an elevated walkway to group of remote villas. Our unit consisted of 3 rooms. A sleeping / living room, a dressing room and a luxurious shower and bath area. The twin beds were separately enclosed with white mosquito netting. A fancy private outdoor seating area was available and offered a beautiful view of the valley.
January 24, Tuesday
Wake up call came on time today. Didn’t matter as I was awake at 4:20 am. Read Kindle, woke Lori at 5:15 am as scheduled and met Vincent at 6:00 am. Early start today as long way to go. Highlight of early morning occurred at the hippo viewing area. Observed one hippo on the road. We followed him as he went down the hill and joined 4 others in a backwater type pond. They sunned themselves for about 20 minutes.
Quite suddenly, one stood up and started to our left, where another hippo was approaching. Soon they both came running up the hill, one chasing the other. The chase continued until they were out of sight. The stranger disappeared, and the other returned to the pool. Vincent explained that the one was protecting his flock. Amazing how fast a hippo can run, considering how big they are.
We then drove parallel to the water’s edge and found another large group of hippos. Must have been at least 20 to 25 soaking in the water. They stayed there all day, as we came by them again later on the way back to the hotel.
Our next goal was to see a lion, so we started off for Maasai Kopjes. On the way, we encountered a large herd of Cape Buffalo. They were on both sides of the road. Not only that, they were in the middle of the road. Reminded me of the American Bison in Yellowstone Park. We watched them for about 15 minutes. We then headed for the Kopjes in hopes of spotting some lions The Kopjes are rock formations that are elevated above the plains. This gives the lions a better view of any animals in the grasses of the plains.
We searched diligently and were about to give up when we noticed several vehicles had converged in one area. Driving to them, we found a large female lioness napping in the shade of a tree atop the rocks. Her legs were wrapped around one of the limbs at the base, keeping her from falling out and sliding down the rock. She was completely disinterested in the spectators watching her. It was nap time, and she could not care less about outsiders. We decided we would see no action here, so we moved out. We had decided to get back a little early to the hotel so we would have some pool time, so we started in that direction.
About halfway back, we saw a group of vehicles near a water area we had previously visited. Suddenly Lori screamed, “look a lion walking down the road!” Ahead was a lioness very casually walking across a bridge, past many vehicles and right past our Land Cruiser. She had a real attitude. Looked like she owned the world.
We followed her down the road and watched her climb a small rise and look off into the distance past a water hole at some grazing animals. Leaving her there, we continued back to the Bilila Lodge and enjoyed a great swim in the refreshing water of the pool. After changing clothes, enjoyed a nice dinner in the dining room. Sampled some South Africa merlot. Very good. Will look for it when we get to S.A. Beautiful view of sunset from our patio table.
January 25, Wednesday
7:00 am Breakfast buffet in hotel. Checked out and met Vincent at 8:00 am. First sighting was two ostriches walking parallel to road. First stop was at Hippo Pool. This was the first time we were able to get out of the vehicles to view animals. We walked to rail (first one we’ve seen) and were surprised to find approximately 75 hippos keeping cool in the pond. They looked quite crowded and seemed irritated with each other. Also saw two crocodiles sunning on the bank.
Continuing on our journey, we encountered a lone giraffe feeding on an Acacia tree. Vincent told us of an accepted theory that trees communicate when they are being eaten, and the downwind trees respond by changing their flavor (believe it or not).
After seeing another large herd of cape buffalo, we saw a leopard sleeping in the branches of a large tree. Vincent pointed out that his “kill” was also in the tree. After moving our vehicle, we could clearly see it was a gazelle. It was truly exciting to see how Mother Nature works.
Continuing on toward our lunch site, we saw a group of elephants who were coming down a hill toward a water hole. Immediately following this we saw a large herd of zebras. We later learned that the start of the great wildebeest migration was behind these zebras. We then ate our box lunch at a picnic site at the Ranger Station of Serengeti National Park. Directly behind our picnic table was a 100 foot plus hill. When we climbed to the top, we had a wonderful view of the Great Migration.
It is estimated there are 1.5 million animals involved in this trek that cover 10,000 square miles of terrain in Tanzania and Kenya. We then left the Park and drove right through the edge of this movement of wildebeest.
After leaving the herd, we encountered two elephants standing next to the road. One had his head leaning against a tree, with one tusk on each side of the tree. He appeared to be resting as his eyes were closed. After awhile, he pawed briefly with one foot to loosen the soil, picked up dirt with his trunk, put the trunk in his moth, apparently to pressurize the trunk, and then blew the dirt across his back. Vincent said this was to cool himself off, as the earth was cooler than the air.
We then drove on to Lake Masek Tented Lodge, arriving shortly before dark. We checked in and had a beer on the deck. Shade was provided by a beautiful Acacia tree. Soon we were escorted to our tent by a man wearing Maasai warrior traditional clothing. Anytime you travelled between the Lodge and your tent after dark, you were required to have an escort. We were surprised how nice the tent was. Wooden floors five feet above the ground, three beds each with mosquito netting enclosure, hot and cold running water, toilet, bathtub and enclosed outdoor shower exposed to the sky. We are to stay her 3 nights.
After dropping off our bags, we met Vincent at the Lodge for dinner. Meal started with Chef Veronica explaining tonight’s meal. She jokingly started her list of entrees with crocodile and ostrich. We took her seriously and asked her where it was when we got to the buffet table. The staff laughed and we were satisfied with chicken Marsala, ratatouille and many fresh vegetables. After dessert, our Escort returned us to our tent and we went right to bed.
January 26, Thursday
Following early 6 am breakfast, we headed out for today’s game drive. We drove through the woodlands near our camp, past Lake Ndutu and toward the plains of Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Our goal today was to see the “Big Cats”. On the shore of Lake Ndutu we saw several flocks of pink flamingos fishing in the shallow water, we also saw many other interesting birds.
Soon after arriving on the plains, we were treated to what Vincent described as a rare sight– a female cheetah walking with her four young cubs. We were thrilled! We tracked them for a half hour as they walked across the open plains.
We then left the cheetahs and continued our search for lions. Before long we saw several safari vehicles adjacent to a distant tree. Investigating, we found a pride of nine lions resting in the shade. Next to the trunk of the tree, we saw what remained of their kill. From the head and horns, we could see that it was a wildebeest. The lions must have had full stomachs, as they moved around very little. In the pride, there were 3 female adults, 4 juveniles and 2 younger cubs.
According to our camera, we left these lions after 10:04 am. By10:14 am we had our first photo of the Cheetah Brothers, a pair of male cheetahs. We were very close, and could see many details of their handsome physique.
Soon we were in the middle of the plains when we saw a large female lion walking down the road toward us. Vincent moved the vehicle to a point where the lioness would walk right past us. As she did, we looked directly down on her back. As she walked by, we could see a group of 5 zebras in the field ahead of her. She soon spotted them and went into a hunting mode. She left the road, lowered her body and headed for some tall grass.
For the next hour we watched her slowly advance toward her prey. Good time to eat our box lunch as we watched the show. The 5 zebras did not move for 45 minutes. As a new group of zebras approached from the left, the target zebras began to move away. At this point, the lioness made her move. She sprinted toward a single zebra that had been lying down. She missed her target as all of the zebras scattered. At this time, she simply continued her walk down the road.
We decided to go watch the wildebeest we could see on the far horizon. They looked like marching ants in the distance. Just as we arrived near their trail, we saw a single mother and baby separated from the group. Although the baby was running with the mother, it was obviously a newborn, as the placenta had not yet dropped.
As we left, both animals were running back to join the large group. As we returned to camp, we again saw the cheetah brothers lounging under a tree.
January 27, Friday
This morning we plan to return to the grassy plains. As we approach Lake Ndutu, we spot a solitary male lion lying in a bushy area. It is the first male lion we have seen, so we are excited. At 9:15 we spot some activity ahead near a group of trees. Upon arrival we see a large pride of lions resting. They are a mixture of female adults, juveniles and cubs. We count a total of 13.
We watch them for awhile and decide all they want to do is sleep. Vincent explained to us that the male lions live by themselves and must provide food for themselves. The pride is run by the females, who provide food for the young ones.
Driving across the plain, we see a large bird we had not seen before. We ask Vincent what it is and he tells us it is a secretary bird. This sounded familiar but I don’t know why. After a while, I realize that is the name of one of the characters in Victor Mollo’s classic bridge book “Bridge in the Menagerie”.
Starting around 10:30 we make 3 separate cheetah sightings. First we see a lone cheetah sleeping in the shade of a single tree. Then we see a group of 3 that Vincent thought were brothers, as he had seen them previously. The third was a single cheetah walking on the plain. He walked right past us, sat down and finally lay down. All of these events occurred within an hour and a half. Lori commented she never expected to see so many cheetahs and I agreed.
We returned to Lake Masek camp, had a hot lunch and relaxed on our screened in porch. Tonight we went down to Lodge early for a cocktail on the outside patio.
January 28, Saturday
Early morning start again today as we are leaving Lake Masek and traveling to Ngorongoro Crater. We ate made to order omelets (by Veronica’s brother) fruits and juices for breakfast and then make our own box lunches to take along.
As he did every morning, Vincent got out his map and showed us the route we would take and described what stops we might make. Today we go through the woodland past Lake Masek, across new plains and on to the Crater.
Highlight of early morning was a strong disagreement between two zebras. One was chasing and biting the other. As they ran all around the water hole, the other zebras in the herd scrambled to get out of the way. It lasted for a good 20 minutes or more. Leaving there, we passed the remains of part of a zebra, obviously a “kill” of one or more predators in the area.
Vultures had not yet arrived, so it could not have been there very long. On the plains we saw several ostriches, hyenas, Thomson and Grand gazelles and wart hogs. Also zebras and wildebeest, which seem to be everywhere. The roads in this area were especially rough and dusty.
Our first stop was at the Maasai Village. The Maasai are nomadic tribes that move as required to find food and water for their cattle. Their diet is almost entirely derived from the cattle, including milk and blood products. We were greeted by the son of the chief, who was our tour guide in the village. The people were dressed in vivid colored outfits, predominately red. They did a dancing and singing show to entertain us. They were proud of their ability to jump high.
We were then escorted into one of their igloo type huts. It was quite dark inside and in the center of one area of the floor was a fire. This was used to cook their food and heat their water. It was quite hot even though it was only low burning embers. Huts were constructed of tree branches and twigs and covered on the outside by a combination of dirt and cattle manure.
We were told that the huts were constructed entirely by the women. We went over to a makeshift school house filled with pre-schoolers. We were then given the chance to purchase arts and crafts produced by the women of the tribe. Good place to buy some souvenirs and support the tribe.
We then traveled to the Olduvai Gorge archaeological site. Here we had lunch followed by a lecture explaining a history of the area. They have a cast of human like footprints that date back to 1.8 million years ago. Also layers of rock are present that date back about 300 million years. Sure makes you feel insignificant.
As we continued on to the Crater, we passed numerous Maasai encampments always with a herd of cattle nearby. We made the long climb to the rim of the crater. As Vincent checked us in through the gate, it gave us a chance to admire the vast expanse of land before us. The trip down to the crater floor was on a narrow winding road with many switchbacks. When we reached the bottom, we began our exploration of one hundred squared miles of the Ngorongoro crater.
As we started toward the large lake, Lori spotted a pink band across the lake. As we got closer, we realized we were looking at thousands of pink flamingos.
After rounding the lake, we spotted the first large animal we had not seen—the rhinoceros. We actually saw six of them spread out. Although they were quite far from the road, we could easily observe them through our binoculars and zoom camera lens. We saw many birds we had not previously seen, as well as many animals we had seen earlier.
On the way to our new camp, we detoured to see two adult male lions resting on a hillside. We then started up the opposite side of the crater to Lemala tented camp, which was on the rim. We noticed how much greener the vegetation was, with many heavily canopied Acacia trees.
Arriving at the camp, we were warmly greeted by the Staff and shown to our tent. This camp was the most rustic and remote of all of our accommodations. We were told that when we wanted to shower, they would bring hot water and fill the storage tank above the roof. I said to fill it and they did.
We were invited to an outside “cocktail party” with the other 4 guests in camp, one couple from Toronto and another from New York City. We were all seated around a bonfire waiting for dinner. When announced that dinner was served, we were all joined by our host, Godwin the camp manager, at a large table in the main tent. A fine dinner of tilapia, vegetables and rice was accompanied by South African wine.
Saying good night to our dinner companions, we returned to our tent. We were pleased to find our gas heater had been turned on and we were very cozy. We were also surprised to find that each bed had a hot water bottle. First one I had seen in many years. By the way, the gas heater was turned off about 15 minutes after we returned from dinner, apparently for safety reasons.
January 29, Sunday
We left this morning at 6 am. Long way to go and a lot to see. We were each given box lunches for both breakfast and lunch. We went down the side of the bowl and across the floor of the crater once again.
First significant sighting was a single lioness walking on the plain. We also got a much closer look at a pair of ostriches who passed right by the rear of our vehicle. Soon after that we spotted a group of 8 to 10 elephants. We noticed that their tusks were much longer than we had seen.
Vincent explained that this occurred because the minerals in the crater enhanced the growth of the ivory tusks. As we watched them eat, another vehicle joined us and the largest elephant walked right toward our new neighbor. They looked quite excited, but the animal walked right past them.
We then came upon a watering hole. In the water was a group of hippos. In addition, a single hippo was grazing in the grasses adjacent to the hole. This was the first time we had seen one eating rather than lolling in the water. We chose this spot to have our breakfast, so had more time to watch the hippos. Vincent warned us that ravens were in the area, and that we should watch our food carefully.
We then continued our travel across the floor and started up the other side. The road up seemed steeper and more winding than the descent had been. We had numerous views of the entire crater on the way up, and we pointed out the areas where we had seen the different animals and birds. We also were able to see cylinders of birds circling high above the crater floor. Stopping at the visitor’s center briefly to sign out of the Park, Lori took a picture of a relief map of the park.
As we left Ngorongoro, we realized we were on the first paved road since we left the airplane that brought us from Arusha a week earlier.
On the two hour trip back to Arusha, we passed farms, villages and rolling countryside where farming seemed to be the main activity. In the villages, people were selling fruits and vegetables along the highway. We also saw many motorbikes, bicycles and scooters being ridden. As we got closer in, we observed many coffee fields. They look similar to grape vineyards.
Coming in to downtown Arusha, we passed a clock tower which Vincent claimed is at the center of Africa. We returned to the Meru Hotel, where we were joined by Nakaaya of the ADS staff. Over a drink, she asked questions about our safari and gave us a survey form to fill out. We gave very high ratings to Vincent, as he did an excellent job.
We said goodbye to our ADS hosts and spent the remainder of the day watching the finals of the Australian Open tennis match. Gal from Croatia was in lounge and got very excited watching her fellow countryman win the match.
At 4:40 the next morning, Vincent picked us up and took us to Kilimanjaro airport where we prepared to board for our day long flights to Nairobi, Johannesburg and Cape Town. This brought to a close the Safari portion of our trip, a truly wonderful experience.
As the plane rose to a higher altitude and the sun came closer to the horizon, we were finally able to see the famous Mount Kilimanjaro.